By David Phillips
For the first time in a month, the full complement of IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Daytona Prototype international (DPi), LMP2, GT Le Mans (GTLM) and GT Daytona (GTD) competitors have assembled in Braselton, Georgia to do battle over the course of six hours at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta on Saturday.
While the GTLM and GTD teams are fresh from a scintillating race at VIRginia International Raceway a fortnight ago, the DPi and LMP2 squads are returning from a summer vacation of sorts since their cars were last fired in anger at Road America.
And while most competitors are intimately familiar with Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta thanks to October’s annual 10-hour extravaganza – aka Motul Petit Le Mans – Saturday’s six-hour time frame has already generated some new twists.
Three Shoes Better than Two?
A number of teams have added a driver to their lineup for the six-hour race (three drivers are actually required in the LMP2 and GTD classes), while the rest are sticking with the tried and true two driver pairings seen in the recent sprint races. Among the additional drivers in DPi are Ryan Hunter Reay and Olivier Pla (Mazda DPi), Tristan Vautier (JDC-Miller) and Filipe Albuquerque (Whelen Engineering), while LMP2 adds Colin Braun and Scott Huffaker to the rosters of Era Motorsport and PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports, respectively. The GTD entry features a host of reinforcements, namely Spencer Pumpelly (GRT Magnus), Corey Lewis (Paul Miller Racing), Trent Hindman (Heinricher Racing), Ben Keating (Riley Motorsports), Shinya Michimi (Meyer Shank Racing), Dillon Machavern (Turner Motorsport) and Michael De Quesada and Daniel Morad (AIM Vasser Sullivan).
Curiously, the manufacturer-led teams in GTLM opted to stick with their conventional two-driver pairings. All of which begs the question: Are three shoes better than two over the course of six (possibly steamy hot) hours, or will the race prove the old maxim "If it ain’t broke don’t fix it?"
The DPi championship race is currently a case of the hare v tortoise. The Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R squad tops the championship chart with a win and a pair of second places to its credit, but also an off day in the form of a P6 in the WeatherTech 240 At Daytona on July 4.
In contrast, while they have yet to mount the top step of the podium in 2020, the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac from JDC-Miller MotorSports holds down the runner-up spot on the strength of three second places and a P4. A win by either team would certainly shake-up the DPi scenario. And speaking of championship shakeups, with AIM Vasser Sullivan splitting its regular duo of Jack Hawksworth and Aaron Telitz between the No. 12 and No. 14 Lexus, Telitz has a chance to overcome Hawksworth’s slim (3 point) lead in the GTD drivers’ championship even as Hawksworth looks to put some more daylight between himself and his erstwhile partner.
Jobs on the Line
The fact that you’re only as good as your last race is a motivating factor for any driver in any race. But some drivers have extra incentive these days, given that Acura Team Penske and the Porsche GT Team have announced they will not be competing in the 2021 WeatherTech Championship. So, Penske’s Helio Castroneves, Dane Cameron, Juan Pablo Montoya and Ricky Taylor are looking for work; ditto Porsche’s Earl Bamber, Nick Tandy, Laurens Vanthoor and Fred Makowiecki.
While the latter quartet may find work in Porsche’s worldwide programs, there appears to be a logjam across the Penske driver lineup for 2021 what with Aussie V8 star Scott McLaughlin said to be in the frame for an IndyCar seat on an outfit that already regularly fields three entries. Acura is, of course, committed to continuing in DPi in 2021 and beyond, so strong performances in the remaining races would not hurt the chances of Messrs. Montoya, Cameron, Castroneves and Taylor securing a ride next year.